Local Greek communities will no longer be independent organizations free from scrutiny by Utah State University officials; instead, each sorority or fraternity will be an official student organization subject to annual application processes and specific reporting requirements.
Utah State has faced a string of sexual assault cases in recent years and came under a U.S. Department of Justice investigation last year.
This change and others comes as a result of a 2016 lawsuit filed by a rape victim against the university in U.S. District Court that ended last week in an out-of-court settlement punctuated by the publication of an opinion piece in The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday.
The op-ed, co-authored by USU president Noelle Cockett and former USU student Victoria Hewlett — the lawsuit’s plaintiff — shares the women’s desire to bring about positive changes in the aftermath of trauma and hardship.
“We hope this model, of turning struggle into opportunity and crisis into change, will serve as a model for other students and schools striving to make their own campuses more welcoming communities for all,” the op-ed states.
Hewlett, who was attending USU in 2015, is one of multiple women to raise allegations of sexual assault that year. She sued the university the following year after former student and Sigma Chi member Jason Relopez was convicted of attempted rape and attempted forcible sexual abuse.
The lawsuit, which will be dismissed as part of the settlement, alleges that USU failed to adequately investigate the matter or to appropriately discipline Relopez even though they knew he was a sexually aggressive person who posed a risk to others, especially when intoxicated.
Member of Sigma Chi Fraternity arrested on 7 counts of rape
Chief Gary Jensen of Logan City Police Department said the department was contacted by a young woman who alleged several sexual assaults had occurred. The woman told police the assaults took place at the Sigma Chi Fraternity earlier in July.
During the course of the investigation Jensen said several other young women made reports to victim services concerning Relopez.
Jensen said they believe there may be more victims.
Jason Relopez appeared again in 1st District Court, seven months into his one-year jail sentence for raping two women. The 28-year-old former Sigma Chi fraternity member was ordered to also undergo sex offender treatment therapy. The jail sentence of one year and treatment were part of a plea agreement the defendant accepted in February of 2016, when he pleaded guilty to attempted rape, a first-degree felony and attempted forcible sexual abuse, a third-degree felony.
Her lawsuit said five other women previously reported being sexually assaulted by the man. The school has denied the claim.
His victims are upset that he didn’t get a harsher sentence.
Judge Brian Cannell is also angry about the outcome of the case, and said in court: “If it wasn’t for the previously arranged plea agreement,” he would have sent Relopez to prison. He calls Relopez’s actions “repugnant” and “horrible.”
Court documents say, before Hewlett was attacked, five other women had reported to the university that they had been sexually assaulted by Relopez.
“It shouldn’t take six of these events. They should be investigated the right way from the first one, not the sixth one,” said Jeffrey Eisenberg, Victoria Hewlett’s attorney.
As part of the settlement, Hewlett will be receiving financial compensation in the amount of $250,000.
According to the settlement reached after a mediation in May, USU is not accepting liability or admitting wrongdoing. However, as stated in the op-ed, each side has agreed that the ability to move forward comes from actions that lead to reform.
Those actions will begin with Utah State University requiring Greek communities to apply for recognition as official student organizations. Once approved, they will be required to report all known allegations of misconduct and alcohol or controlled substance infractions, along with actions taken in response to those events. The sororities and fraternities will also be required to report preventative measures put in place, and they will be subject to random inspections at least twice each semester.